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Strapless : John Singer Sargent and the fall of Madame X
Davis, Deborah
Adult Nonfiction ND237.S3 D38 2003

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From Publishers' Weekly:

John Singer Sargent's portrait Madame X has hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for decades, following its scandalous debut in the Paris Salon in 1884, and subsequent retouching of the work to restore the dangling dress strap to the figure's impossibly white bare shoulder. Davis has worked as a story editor and analyst for most of the big film companies, and here seeks the woman behind Sargent's most celebrated, enigmatic profile. Born to Creole New Orleans aristocrats in 1859, Virginie Amelie Gautreau moved to Paris with her family following her father's death, married an older man made rich by the fertilizer trade and cultivated a beauty that, even in fashion-frenzied Paris, earned her widespread fame. She met young John Singer Sargent, a "fellow upstart American," who imagined that, by painting Paris's "most original... most fascinating woman," he would secure his artistic acclaim. After months of laboring, Sargent produced the racier version of Madame X. By Davis's compelling report, the artist worked to deflect the ensuing scandal (partially by painting a glowing icon of flowering innocence), while Amelie slid into social obscurity. "Tyrannized" by the portrait that mocked her fast-fading form, the model obsessively avoided mirrors until her death in 1915. Because historical record will not substantiate a longed-for romance between Sargent and Gautreau, Davis stiffly imports tangential figures such as the seductive gynecologist Samuel-Jean Pozzi to deliver lusty intrigue. Regrettably, her diligent research yields scarcely a word from Amelie; thus, the model remains a strangely weightless heroine, gliding amid this cast of characters like a silent sphinx. (Aug.) FYI: Other X-iana include Gioia Diliberto's fictional I Am Madame X, published by Scribner in March, and an exhibition of Sargent's women planned to open at New York's Adelson Galleries in November. Davis will make a national author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Not quite the "little black dress," the strapless dress in question here is a flowing column of elegance, curving into the body as the strong-featured face looks away. John Singer Sargent had envisioned his famous portrait, Madame X, as an advertisement of his skill in female portraiture, but instead it became a scandal at its 1884 Paris salon debut. Using information gathered from papers and documents in private hands, veteran film executive Davis here offers a fully realized image of the sitter, Virginie "Am?lie" Gautreau, and takes the reader into her extreme lifestyle in late 19th-century Paris, culminating in the portrait that resulted in ridicule and despair for the remaining years of her life. A society that both condemned and fed upon scandal is brought to life, and the cast of characters is enormously varied, from Sarah Bernhardt to Henry James, Richard Wagner to Oscar Wilde. With its intriguing set of circumstances, lively writing, and an eye for detail and nuance, the book offers art history, social commentary, and gossip. Recommended for large public libraries, as well as art collections. [Diliberto Gioia explores the same topic in the recent novel, I Am Madame X.-Ed.]-Paula Frosch, Metropolitan Museum of Art Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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